Philly Power Structure Targets Mumia Fundraising: Political Persecution of the Black United Fund

Revolutionary Worker #1010, June 13, 1999

The Philadelphia power structure has launched a campaign to sabotage fundraising efforts in the battle to stop the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Just one day after the Millions for Mumia protests-- which drew more than 30,000 people into the streets in Philadelphia and San Francisco--the Philadelphia Inquirer ran a front-page story questioning the relationship between the Black United Fund of Pennsylvania (BUF/PA) and the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal. This was the opening round in a series of attacks on the Black United Fund.

The Black United Fund of Pennsylvania is a not-for-profit organization which raises and utilizes funds "to support the growth, development and empowerment of the African American community and in turn, society at large." It is an affiliate of the National Black United Fund which has 21 affiliates in communities across the country. BUF/PA provides grants and technical assistance to organizations "committed to improving conditions in African American communities." BUF/PA provides support to dozens of community organizations from the Black Women's Health Project to the John Coltrane Cultural Society.

BUF/PA also provides fiscal sponsorship of donor-advised funds--this a service where people contributing funds to the BUF/PA specify where they want the money to go. This means the Black United Fund collects contributions specifically earmarked for a certain group and monitors how they are spent. It provides this service for a small fee. Some of these funds managed by BUF/PA include African-Americans for Justice Against Texaco, the Million Woman March, Sisters Remember Malcolm, the Uptown Cultural District Group, and International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal. A contribution to the Black United Fund may be earmarked for the legal defense of Mumia Abu-Jamal or the International Concerned Family and Friends. The BUF/PA has had a relationship where donor-advised funds can be earmarked for the International Concerned Family and Friends since 1991.

This kind of fiscal sponsorship is a crucial service--one which many organizations fighting for justice rely on. And BUF/PA is the only independent Black philanthropic organization in Pennsylvania that provides fiscal sponsorship of donor-advised funds. So it is truly an outrageous display of white supremacy and police-state tactics for the authorities in Philadelphia to dictate to the only Black charity that provides fiscal sponsorship in the whole state that they cannot send funds to the legal defense of Mumia Abu-Jamal. This is the same power structure whose corrupt police department is notorious for brutalizing and framing Black revolutionaries and Black people generally. And if the power structure gets away with this attack on BUF/PA it will have serious consequences for the battle to save Mumia--and all movements for justice throughout the country.

Attack on BUF/PA Intensifies

On May 13, the anniversary of the 1985 bombing and murder of 11 MOVE members--and the burning-down of an entire Black neighborhood--the Inquirer ran an editorial piece titled "Cut Abu-Jamal Ties." The editorial cited city officials who threatened that if the BUF/PA did not cut its ties with International Concerned Family and Friends they would be dropped from the Combined Campaign--a group of charities that city workers donate to through payroll deductions. The editorial quoted Mayor Rendell's spokesman Kevin Feeley: "You can be a mail drop for Mumia or you can participate in the Combined Campaign. You don't get both." Rendell was the district attorney when Mumia was framed for the murder of Philadelphia cop Daniel Faulkner. The night before the Millions for Mumia protest, Rendell attended a dinner in Faulkner's honor that raised more than $75,000.

The Inquirer editorial also contained a thinly veiled call for other organizations whose workers contribute to the BUF/PA to launch the same attack including Aetna Life Insurance, Prudential, Dupont, Merck & Company, IBM, SEPTA, the city school district, Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania.

In response, president and CEO of the BUF/PA Linda Richardson explained in a letter to the Inquirer: "The Black United Fund of Pennsylvania was chartered in 1982 to provide a mechanism for African- Americans throughout the commonwealth to collectively address social and economic injustices by pooling the resources needed to empower their families and communities.... The board of directors, staff and mangement of BUF/PA make no apologies and are proud to help support and sustain programs, events and organizations that are working to strengthen African Americans."

Then on May 27, BUF/PA found out from the media that it had been dropped from the Combined Campaign. Mayor Rendell claimed that the BUF/PA's state charitable registration ended at the end of 1995 so they were ineligible for participation in the Campaign. But the motives were clearly political. Rendell told the Inquirer, "All they have to do is get the Mumia fund another conduit and we'll put them right back in." Removal from the Combined Campaign means the BUF/PA's revenues would be cut by one quarter, or $100,000.

The BUF/PA has been part of the Combined Campaign for 14 years. No money it receives from the Combined Campaign goes to Mumia Abu-Jamal. The authorities in Philadelphia have launched this attack now to undermine Mumia's ability to raise funds at a time when he is approaching his legal "endgame" and money to pay for his appeals at the federal level is vital. And by cutting off the BUF/PA from the Combined Campaign they are punishing the BUF/PA for their refusal to bow to political pressure and have shown a complete disrespect and disdain for Black people generally.


On June 3 a press conference was held by the BUF/PA at District Council 33 in Philadelphia to respond to the city's actions. Reggie Brian, the director of communications for District Council 33 welcomed people on behalf of a union "always concerned about the righting of wrongs." Many organizations sent representatives to support the BUF/PA, including the Center for Responsible Funding, The African Archives, Kwanzaa 2000, the Elizabeth Blackwell Health Center for Women, Bread and Roses, the African Sisterhood, the Women Gather Conference, the Million Woman March and the Uptown Cultural District Group.

Linda Richardson, president of BUF/PA, called news reports "purposely misleading" and clarified that no funds from the Combined Campaign went to International Concerned Family and Friends and that BUF/PA had not taken a position on Mumia's case. She also explained that the Black United Fund had completed the steps required for an update of their certification and that the BUF/PA expected they would be recertified.

Richardson also said BUF/PA "did not receive official notification that the city was removing us from the Combined Campaign until after the city's letter had been sent to the Inquirer." She said BUF/PA is appealing the city's decision and ended her remarks this way: "In spite of the obstacles placed before us, we remain totally committed to and will continue our mission to empower and support programs, events and organizations working to strengthen African-Americans."

Thomas Paine Cronin, president of AFSCME D.C. Council 47 said, in part: "I think once you begin to cut off segments of the Combined Campaign such as the Black United Fund, or threaten them, that is a significant threat to the entire community.... Let's rip off the veil of racism here because it's a thin veil of racism. And I think it's important that I say this in particular because that's what I see. The city position on this matter ought to be absolutely reversed...."

Four members of the Pennsylvania State Legislative Black Caucus spoke in support of the BUF/PA, including Caucus President Representative James Roebuck, Representative Leanna Washington, Senator Shirley Kitchen and Representative Harold James. Roebuck said of the BUF/PA: "If we allow this to happen to this organization, then every organization in turn is placed in jeopardy. If you do something someone might not like, you involve yourself in something that someone might question and then you become subject to this kind of political harassment. I stand firm with my colleagues in saying that this should not, this cannot happen."

The president of the National Black United Fund, William Merritt, told the press: "We support the Black United Fund of Pennsylvania. We don't see that they have violated any laws, nor have they violated any policy. It is consistent with our mission in terms of supporting organizations in the Black community, their relationship with the Friends of Mumia." Merritt charged that the actions by the city of Philadelphia were a violation of the constitutional rights of the BUF/PA.

International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia have urged people to protest the city's actions against the BUF/PA by writing to the editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, and city officials and by contributing to the Black United Fund. Contributions can be sent to Black United Fund, 2227 N. Broad Street, Phila., PA 19132, Tel:215- 236-2100, FAX 215-236-7539.

As the battle to stop the execution of Mumia intensifies, we are going to face many more dirty tricks and political attacks by the enemy. This latest dictatorial, racist move by the power structure cannot be allowed to stand. Mumia Abu-Jamal is a revolutionary voice, precious to the people, and the power structure cannot be allowed to get away with sabotaging the ability of the people to raise funds to save his life.

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